Thursday, March 18, 2021

A Letter To My Students


Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash
Dear Students,

Oh how I have missed you! I've missed your noise and your chaos and your smiles which are hidden behind masks, and your laughter and your hard work, and even your frustrations and tears. I have missed your creativity and how you never cease to amaze me with it. I have missed your fearlessness and your fearfulness, your good choices and your not-so-good ones. I have missed you because without you, there is no school. 

Many people who don't know much about what you and I do together call you 'lost'. But, you are not lost. Far from it! All of you who have diligently showed up on Zoom every day have been working so hard learning how to use computers and software in ways we teachers never imagined. You've been taking more responsibility for your learning, working independently, and learning from this global experience! 

Some of you have really struggled with this, and I want you to know that you are not alone. So many other students and, yes, even teachers (myself included), are struggling too. This is not easy work we are doing. It's really hard sitting in front of a computer for hours on end, not being able to talk to friends or eat together in the cafeteria or enjoy assemblies or play at recess.

And to those of you who have not been with us, you are not 'lost' either. You have always been in our hearts. You have always been on our minds. We have always been searching for you, and hoping to see your face once again. We've been reaching out to you. We've been trying our best to find you and bring you back. We know you've been home, we know you've been struggling. We know your families have been struggling, too. This is all so hard

But you will survive—all of you will. In fact, you will do more than just survive. You will thrive because we, your teachers, will help you, because that's our job.

We will not let you fall. We will hold you up and lift you up and support you in any way we can. And just like any child who has suffered from a debilitating, devastating disease—one so terrible that they couldn't even work with a tutor—you will come back. And you will be strong and you will be healthy and you will be knowledgeable. You will know how to read and write and do math. You will know how to make art and music and play sports. You will know how to speak another language—maybe not fluently, but you will learn. You will know how to do all the things you hope and dream to do. You just have to believe in yourself, believe that we will help you, and be willing to put in the effort.

You know, for a long time, those people who don't know much about what we do have been trying to stuff your heads with all sorts of information that maybe you're just not ready for yet. They want you to read and write and do math and take tests before many of you even know how to tie your shoes! That's crazy! Maybe the one good thing that will come out of this pandemic is that they will stop trying to force-feed you and just let us, your teachers, meet you where you are. 

We are almost done with this crazy school year, and many of you will be coming back to school before the end of this month! I am so excited! We will get through this together. There will be laughter, fun, excitement and learning. You will see your friends and share your experiences, and little by little, we will leave that nasty Covid-19 in the dust. If you're feeling stressed, anxious or worried, know that you are not alone and you will have a lot of support. You are stronger than you realize and braver than you think. And I am so proud of you!

Hugs,

Ms. Corfield

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The 'New' Normal Post-Covid - Are YOU Ready?

If you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. If you put a frog in tepid water and slowly raise the heat, it will boil to death. - Unknown


Photo Credit: Nick Fewings

Covid-19 has been raising the heat on all of us for a year. Stress, depression and anxiety have paralyzed millions. Personally, I've battled all three. As someone who lived much of my life in a state of chronic stress, I very quickly became that frog again and didn't realize it until I was almost ready to be served as an appetizer. I was sleeping either too much or too little, watching the same ten pounds turn my bathroom scale into a seesaw, and despite having almost twenty years of teaching experience under my belt, there were days when I just burst into tears because virtual teaching is just. so. hard. Even though I had Covid-19 and its accompanying brain fog, I've also had what Ellen Cushing, writing in The Atlanticcalls the Covid "fog of forgetting" that has crept into our brains simply from living in quasi-isolation for so long:

Everywhere I turn, the fog of forgetting has crept in. A friend of mine recently confessed that the morning routine he’d comfortably maintained for a decade—wake up before 7, shower, dress, get on the subway—now feels unimaginable on a literal level: He cannot put himself back there. Another has forgotten how to tie a tie. A co-worker isn’t sure her toddler remembers what it’s like to go shopping in a store... 
“We’re all walking around with some mild cognitive impairment,” said Mike Yassa, a neuroscientist at UC Irvine. “Based on everything we know about the brain, two of the things that are really good for it are physical activity and novelty. A thing that’s very bad for it is chronic and perpetual stress.” Living through a pandemic—even for those who are doing so in relative comfort—“is exposing people to microdoses of unpredictable stress all the time,” said Georgia Tech neuroscientist Tina Franklin, whose research has shown that stress changes the brain regions that control executive function, learning, and memory. 
That stress doesn’t necessarily feel like a panic attack or a bender or a sleepless night, though of course it can. Sometimes it feels like nothing at all. “It’s like a heaviness, like you’re waking up to more of the same, and it’s never going to change,” [Community College Professor Jen] George told me, when I asked what her pandemic anxiety felt like. “Like wading through something thicker than water. Maybe a tar pit.” She misses the sound of voices. 
“We’re trapped in our dollhouses,” said Rachel Kowert, a research psychologist from Ottawa, who studies video games. “It’s just about surviving, not thriving. No one is working at their highest capacity.” (emphasis mine)

I've only written six blog posts in the past year. My brain just hasn't been functioning the way it used to. I've been too tired, too overwhelmed. I would start to write, but lose interest. Couldn't put a complete thought together. All I wanted to do was get in bed and binge-watch... anything. 

But, life is changing! The winter of our discontent will soon be over. With vaccines rolling out in ever-increasing numbers, we will soon be dining indoors, gathering in large crowds—and hugging! A return to normal? No. There will never be a 'return'; only a moving forward to create the new normal. And that process is bound to stir up all sorts of new fears as well. 

In her March 9th opinion piece in The Washington Post, Dr. Lucy McBride calls this FONO—Fear of Normal:

Trauma has a way of doing that to us. We’ve lost more than 500,000 lives in this country alone. We’ve suffered unprecedented economic, social and emotional upheaval. And regardless of our individual pandemic experience, each of us has faced some level of loss, grief and despair...
But now that we’ve adjusted to pandemic life — with its inherent struggle, stress, social isolation, emotional toll and hidden silver linings — it’s understandable to experience emotional whiplash even as trauma recedes.

When patients come to her with these symptoms, she helps them assemble a toolkit to help them cope which can include "breathing techniques, guided meditation, regular exercise, prioritizing sleep and spending time in nature, all of which tamp down stress hormones." 

My district is going back to full in-person teaching and learning later this month. I sometimes catch myself wondering, Have I forgotten how to teach? Will I be able to do it?  Yes, I tell myself, you will! It's like riding a bicycle. But while my mind knows this, my emotions are sending up flares and I have to pay attention. 

Instead of trying to fight the stress, anxiety and fear, I leaned in. I didn't berate myself for sleeping more, scrolling through Facebook more, watching more TV, and yes, eating more. But, I also started to read books more, meditate more and spend more time in nature, and slowly but surely, the fog has started to lift. Pounds can be lost, exercise can be done, activity can ramp up in a time that is right and gentle. There is no stopwatch, no one is breathing down my neck to 'fix' everything that went 'wrong' in this past year—except me.

While flinging open all our doors and having big parties just as the warm weather arrives sure sounds a lot more exciting and fun than meditating, we must remember that those tools help build and support the infrastructure that is our physical and emotional wellbeing, without which, we are running on pure adrenaline. And once that adrenaline is gone, we are left feeling shaky and weak. 

So, ease into this new normal. Be gentle with yourself in the coming months. As tragic as this past year has been, we are being given an opportunity to redefine what we want our futures to be. How will you write yours?

Photo Credit: Alfred Schrock



Friday, January 22, 2021

Implosion! New Jersey's Fitting Trump Sendoff

New Jersey's largest newspaper, The Star Ledger, is reporting that Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, is set for implosion on February 17th. After that date, all four of Trump's AC casinos—Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, Trump World's Fair and Trump Marina—will officially be no more. 


Trump Plaza one month before it closed.  So classy. (Photo | Dan McQuade)

ATLANTIC CITY

Casino implosion set for Feb. 17

Katie Kausch For The Star-Ledger

After one final delay, Trump Plaza has a new implosion date, Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small announced.

The implosion of the long-shuttered casino is now set for Feb. 17 at 9 a.m., Small said at a Thursday morning press conference. It was pushed back from a Jan. 29 implosion date earlier this month.

The delay was caused by a large concrete foundation that was originally unknown to demolition teams, licensing and inspection director Darryl Finch said at the press conference.

Pre-implosion demolition work remains underway, including drilling holes inside the structure to place dynamite, Finch said.

The implosion will impact a several- block area, and will include evacuation zones and areas where people are not allowed outside their buildings, Rick Bianchi with the Atlantic City Police Department said. Details on which blocks and buildings will be affected are not yet finalized.

An auction to push the button at the implosion fell apart after owner Carl Icahn objected, citing safety concerns, auctioneer Joseph Bodnar, owner of Bodnar’s Auction, told NJ Advance Media.

Meant to be a fundraiser to benefit the local Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City, Icahn has pledged to donate $174,000 to the organization to replace money lost in the cancellation.

Icahn Enterprises, run by conservative billionaire Icahn, took ownership of the building in 2016 after Donald Trump divested from the property.

Since the cancellation of the fundraiser, Hard Rock and Oceans casinos have each donated five rooms, to be auctioned off for overnight stays before winners can watch from a prime viewing slot at One Atlantic to benefit the organization, Small said. Donations for the Boys & Girls Club are also being collected.

For those who can’t bid on a room, Bader Field will be used as a viewing area, Small said. Watchers will be charged for parking and asked to watch from the safety of their cars.

“The city can’t be naive to think that no one will show up. It has nothing to do with the former president. If it was any building in the city being imploded, people will come,” Small said.

The casino has been an eyesore in Atlantic City for years, with discussions of an implosion dating to at least 2017. The casino shuttered in 2014 after about 30 years in business.


Contrary to what Trump may have led you to believe, he didn't sell his Atlantic City holdings; he lost them. Bigly. He filed for bankruptcy not once, not twice, not three times, but four times: in 1991, 2004, 2009 and 2014. Surprised? You shouldn't be. What is happening on February 17th is a fitting metaphor for how he left our country: broken, battered, bashed and deeply in debt.

I've written about Atlantic City before (herehere, here, here, here to name a few). And I've been there many times. Despite a poverty rate over 40%, it has a lot going for it: some of the best restaurants I've ever eaten in (The Knife and Fork, Docks Oyster House, Buddahkan, Los Amigos, Angelos Fairmount Tavern) a beautiful beach, a fabulous retail outlet center, and some very nice hotels. But for reasons beyond my bandwidth of fiscal understanding, 43 years of gambling revenue could never get it out from under its bad rap of a honky-tonk, low-life town where more dreams are lost than won, and that's devastatingly unfair to all the hard-working people who live and work there.

So, it's no surprise that the last vestiges of Donald Trump are a failed coup attempt on our nation's capitol and the implosion of one of his long-shuttered properties in the second poorest city in New Jersey.

If I didn't have to work that day, I'd be there in Atlantic City cheering on the implosion and the dream that will—hopefully—arise from its ashes.

Buh-bye, Donnie. Can't say we'll miss ya.

Note: All emphasis mine.

Friday, August 21, 2020

An Open Letter to Gov. Murphy on School Reopening

Dear Gov. Murphy,

Within the next two weeks, school districts across New Jersey will be reopening in some way, shape or form. And while every district's plans will, no doubt, look different, one thing is the same from High Point to Cape May: this is a hot mess. 

In March, you gave us a clear directive to prepare for 100% virtual teaching until the end of that month. Educators across the state rose to the challenge as you very sensibly guided us through the rest of the school year one month at a time, checking the spread of the Coronavirus and its impact on our state's population. During that time, we were able to hone our skills and fine-tune our plans to deliver the very best virtual curriculum we could. We were proud of what we were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time, and I personally was so proud to count my governor, whom I supported from the get-go, right up there with Gov. Andrew Cuomo as one who took this pandemic seriously and took decisive steps to contain it despite the heavy criticism you faced. You did it right and your efforts paid off. 

But as spring rolled into summer, the numbers started to rise—especially in children. Just last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that "children and teenagers account for a growing share of coronavirus cases in Camden and Gloucester Counties, mirroring a national — and ominous — trend as young people rebel against social distancing rules, health experts say." 

Over the past few months, administrators, boards of education, community members and staff in every district have been working diligently on reopening plans (I was proud to serve on my district's reopening committee), the logistics of which often resembling a Rube Goldberg concoction. But now, with mere days until students arrive, many districts are ditching those plans and going 100% virtual—mine included—leaving parents and staff in the lurch as we all scramble to figure out how we are going to make it work in our homes and in our classrooms. Many districts have cited any or all of the following as their main stumbling blocks to reopening:
  • Back ordered PPEs
  • Inadequate HVAC systems and lack of air conditioning in many schools
  • Many classrooms without windows or operable windows 
  • Mold
  • Inadequate classroom space to properly social distance
  • Students having to eat in their classrooms
  • Inability to social distance students on busses
  • Staff members who are at high risk requesting medical leaves
  • Shortage of substitutes to fill those positions
  • Proper accommodations for students with special needs
  • Available staff to properly clean buildings at the end of the day
  • Inability of staff to clean equipment and certain classrooms in between classes
All of that costs money—which is in chronically short supply in many districts. Add to that the staggering cost of providing electronic devices to every student for home use, and a hybrid model just doesn't make sense. Where is this money supposed to come from? This is arguably the most expensive unfunded mandate ever imposed on schools.

Parents need to go back to work, children need to go back to school, teachers want to go back to school, but we cannot let the abject failure of leadership in Washington force us into reopening for in-person instruction when it is clearly not safe to do so. Yes, there will be learning loss, but what is the alternative? Is spreading this virus and risking the lives of more people worth that cost? If restaurants cannot be open for indoor dining, if gyms are still closed, if many businesses are still operating remotely, how can you, in good conscience, expect schools to reopen for in-person learning? Have you ever been in a kindergarten or preschool classroom? Do you know how much time teachers spend teaching those little ones about personal space, personal hygiene and keeping their hands to themselves? As you did in the spring, you must put the health and welfare of our students and staff above all else. New Jersey has come so far in beating back this menace. You can't ease up.

I am urging you to order all New Jersey schools to go to virtual instruction for at least the first two months of the school year with a plan to reassess at the end of October. During that time, I ask that you work with the state board of education to develop SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) goals, based on CDC recommendations, for every district to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect the health of our students and staff. 

Please, don't let New Jersey slide backwards. We can't afford to mess this up.

Respectfully,

Marie








Thursday, April 23, 2020

Strange Days Indeed Pt. 2 — How Big Is Your Button?

Some reflections on life in these strange new times from someone who's lived through a few of her own
____________________________________________________

You can buy one of Hicks' books by clicking on the links throughout this post.

These are my thoughts and feelings; this is my experience. Take what you like and leave the rest. I mean no judgment on you or your beliefs. This is just what works for me.


In Part 1 I talked about my grandparents, who raised me, and how their generation survived not only the Spanish Influenza, but the Great Depression and two World Wars—without Zoom meetings, cell phones, social media, Netflix, drive-by birthdays, or anything else that's helping us get through "these difficult times".

Sure, it's easy to wax nostalgic and think the entire country was united around the leaders of the day, everyone working together for the common good, but that would be too perfect. Yes, there was opposition, but it wasn't screaming in your face in real time, 24/7/365. Many people were simply too busy trying to survive.



Violet from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Oh how life has changed. With the sheer volume of information now available at the tap of a button, I feel like one of those kids in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory who couldn't resist all the temptation surrounding them until they were consumed by it. And who's to blame? Me, of course.

I have a big button. And I've allowed it to be pushed pretty hard over the years. Politics, war, injustice, Taylor Ham vs. pork roll (it's a Jersey thing)—you name it, I can sound off on it. And the more I react, the bigger the button, the easier it is to push, and the more stress, anxiety and fear grow inside me. 

There's a lot going on right now that is so tempting to dive into, and boy-oh-boy have I dove! But, what has it gotten me? Nuthin. Oh sure, it feels really good in the moment when I'm tweeting snarky remarks at politicians or proving my moral certitude to Internet trolls. But what does it do for my overall health and well-being? For the greater good? What energy am I sending out to my little corner of the universe? That I am afraid. I'm stuck in the vicious cycle of fear and my negative reaction to fear, which produces more fear. I'm stuck in what Buddhism calls Samsara, the infinitely repeating cycle of birth, misery, and death.

We all have a button. It doesn't have to be something as all-encompassing as the state of the world right now. It could be your neighbor who doesn't pick up after their dog, your overly-critical boss, a family member or that noise your car keeps making that you have no money to fix. Whatever it is, your reaction to it either increases or decreases the size of your button and your overall emotional state. And it does something else: because you're generating so much negative energy, negative energy finds its way to you



So, what to do? Start by acknowledging its existence. All that energy is there for a reason. What's it trying to say to you? What does it want from you? Why do these persons, places or things set you off? What if it was turned around to positive energy? What could you do with that? I grew up in a very dysfunctional and sometimes dangerous household. When things got really loud and scary, I shut down emotionally and hide—completely normal reactions for a child. But as an adult, I reacted that way to situations that were adverse, but weren't necessarily life threatening, because my ten-year-old mind was still running the show. I had to acknowledge all the hard work that kid did to keep me alive, and I had to let her know she didn't have to be in charge anymore. However, that little girl taught me an invaluable skill: how to calmly walk away from certain highly-charged situations. It's a skill for which I'm eternally grateful.

This doesn't mean that I don't get angry. Far from it! I'm a human being, and I care deeply about what's happening in the world right now. It's how I choose to react that keeps my button from growing. So, here's what I'm practicing:

  • Limiting my exposure to televised news. I read more than I watch. 
  • Disengaging with people on social media who are clearly button-pushers. That doesn't mean that I won't point out a factual error or a flaw in thinking, but it does mean that I won't react in ways that increase the size of my button, especially because there are people out there who get paid to push it! And if the conversation gets too heated, I can choose to walk away. Remember, it's the second person who starts an argument.
  • Breathing. It's a simple, involuntary act that is so important in keeping us calm and centered. I do a simple breathing meditation first thing in the morning, and if I feel anxiety coming on, I stop what I'm doing, close my eyes and breathe into the feelings until they subside. There are so many great breathing meditations out there. Find one that works for you.
  • Praying for people with whom I disagree or whose words or actions have caused pain or suffering. I'm not religious, but I do believe in a power greater than ourselves, and that sending good thoughts about someone into the universe can help them and me. Every great religion and spiritual teacher espouses love for all mankind as the fundamental goal of humanity. It's not easy, but I've found it to be very healing.
No matter the energy source that fuels our button, it will continue to grow until we make a conscious decision to change. It's not always easy, and it does take time, so be gentle with yourself. If you fall off that wagon (and we all do), just get back on again with no shame or blame. Otherwise you're just pushing your own button.



Thursday, April 16, 2020

When School Reopens

This post is in response to education 'reformer', Michael Petrilli's April 6th op-ed in the Washington Post

All across this country—and around the world—students, parents and educators are writing their own chapter in this unprecedented time in human history. With barely a moment’s notice, educators created digital platforms to deliver instruction through the rest of the school year, and perhaps beyond. Parents, many of whom are now working from home or are unemployed, have been tasked with supervising their child’s instruction, while the students themselves are doing their best to absorb, process and retain all they are learning while the very real and tangible uncertainties of social distancing, health, finances and safety swirl around them. Many not only have no parental supervision, but are not engaged in learning at all due to language barriers and/or a lack of technology or Internet access.

This platform was not subjected to the rigorous analysis, data collection and punitive consequences that the education ‘reform’ movement has imposed on us over the past 20 years. Our students had an immediate need and we met it. As University of Georgia Professors Stephanie Jones and Hilary Hughes describe it, “It is not distance learning. It is not online schooling. There are philosophies and research guiding those ways of teaching and learning... What we are doing right now is something different. So, let's call this what it is: COVID-19 Schooling; or better yet, Teaching and Learning in COVID-19.”

When school finally does reopen either this school year or next, educators will face a whole host of challenges both with their students and the system at large. For certain, there will be gaps in learning, some greater than others depending on the amount of support and stability in a student’s home. Schools themselves may look different. We just don’t know what the economic impact of the Coronavirus will be on budgets, many of which have been slashed to the bone due to education ‘reform’. So, while Mr. Petrillli calls for large numbers of students to be retained even for part of the year, some districts simply may not have enough money to retain current staff, let alone hire more.

And while I agree with him that re-establishing routines and addressing the social and emotional needs of students must come first, there is no perfunctory timetable for Social and Emotional Learning. It happens all day, every day in every school, every year. It is the foundation of all good teaching and learning, and it ebbs and flows with student needs. And with the likelihood that a number of students will be returning with psychological issues ranging from mild anxiety to full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder, we are going to have to practice enormous amounts of it because no amount of standardized testing, 'rigor', evaluations or other punitive measures will restore lost learning if students are not emotionally able to learn.

No doubt researchers will spend years studying the COVID-19 student cohort as they continue their education. So, what should be our goals moving forward? Do we simply play catch-up and restart that hamster wheel of teaching to the test? Or do we hit the reset button and add more of what’s developmentally appropriate like choice, creativity, play and experimentation into the school day? Twenty years of education ‘reform’ have turned children and educators from human ‘beings’ into human ‘doings.’ And with the alarming rise in the number of teen suicides and children of increasingly younger ages being treated for anxiety and depression, do we want that to continue? What if we finally create educational environments that meet children where they are and help them move forward at a pace that’s right for them?

We may have no other choice. Student needs may demand it. Educators and administrators in each district should assess what worked and what didn’t during their COVID-19 Schooling and develop a plan that works for them. If standardized testing is resumed in the 2020-2021 school year, it should not be used as a punitive measure against students, teachers or schools. Let it be exactly what it is: a snapshot of student ability on one test, on one day out of the year. In fact, this would be the perfect time to re-evaluate the entire concept. But, whatever does happen, K-12 educators should be the first voices that are heard—not politicians, lobbyists, billionaires, or think-tankers. No one—except parents—knows our students better than we do. We built the damned plane, we should be the ones flying it.

___________________________________________________________________

New feature in my blog: At the end of each post, I will now be posting links to books that have inspired, changed and informed me. Click on the link to purchase. 

Want to learn how ordinary people just like you have fought back against the education 'reform' movement? Check out Diane Ravitch's latest book:

From one of the foremost authorities on education and the history of education in the United States, "whistleblower extraordinaire" (The Wall Street Journal), former US Assistant Secretary of Education, author of the best-selling Reign of Error ("fearless" (Jonathan Kozol, NYRB)) - an impassioned, inspiring look at the ways in which parents, teachers, activists - citizens - are successfully fighting back to defeat the forces that are privatizing America's public schools.


Saturday, April 4, 2020

Strange Days Indeed Pt. 1

Some reflections on life in these strange new times from someone who's lived through a few of her own

Note: These are my thoughts and feelings; this is my experience. Take what you like and leave the rest. I mean no judgment on you or your religious or spiritual beliefs. This is just what works for me.


Everything old is new again.

In 1929, my grandmother was a 25-year-old single mother of a two-year-old boy. She already had eleven years experience under her belt working for what was then Bell Telephone, having graduated 8th grade and lied about her age to get the job. She was also the sole breadwinner in a house that included both her parents, her sister and brother-in-law. 

Welcome to the Great Depression.

Between that and the two World Wars, life took a devastating toll on people physically, mentally and spiritually. But, through sheer grit, determination and belief that things would get better, they survived and thrived. But not without tremendous loss.

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" was the mantra of the era. Although my family fared better than most (relatively speaking), like all Baby Boomers, I was raised on their stories, practices and stoicism: patch clothes and hand them down, darn socks, clean your plate, don't waste anything—and say your prayers!

Until the day that old age finally claimed their minds, both my grandparents were devoted Catholics. They scheduled time every day for prayers. They visited religious sites. There were religious statues, images and prayer books around the house. And after church we had to rinse our mouths with water so no traces of the Eucharist remained before we ate breakfast. It was serious stuff.

As a child, I had no choice but to comply. But as I got older, I eventually rejected organized religion. Although I've always believed there is a power greater than all of us somewhere, I never bought into the whole concept of one religion having the market cornered on salvation. I knew there was something else out there, something that made more sense. I just didn't know where. I would soon learn that it was hiding inside me all the time.

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Well, mine appeared when I turned 25 and walked into my first Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) meeting. That program saved me in more ways than I can write here. Since then, my search for the meaning of life has led me through many twists and turns. Like my grandparents, my house is full of books and meaningful art and objects that reflect my spiritual beliefs. Like them, I am committed to this journey. But, unlike organized religions, I have been given no magic answers or false promises. All I can say is that the more I know about this infinite universe, the more I don't know. And I'm okay with that.

Which leads me to this, written by American Buddhist Nun, Pema Chodron*: 
A [spiritual warrior] accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It's also what makes us afraid. 
So, how do we be unafraid in yet another time of huge uncertainty? Well, as Chodron says, 
[Warrior] training offers no promise of happy endings. Rather, this 'I' who wants to find security—who wants something to hold onto—will finally learn to grow up. 
If we find ourselves in doubt that we're up to being a warrior-in-training, we can contemplate this question: 'Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?'
No one knows exactly how long this pandemic will last, nor do we know whether we'll come down with it or be hit by a car. So, how do we deal with this huge uncertainty? Believe me, I have had some serious moments of anxiety and fear! If you follow me on social media, you know full-well. But all those worries and fears don't have to define my life 24/7. I have tools to get me down off the ceiling. 

I start with focusing on where I am right now. This moment is all I have. I don't have 10 minutes from now any more than I have last Tuesday. Yes, there's a pretty good chance that I will have 10 minutes from now, but my point is that the present moment is all I ever have so I might as well pay attention to it. 

So, what's going on for you right now? Take a moment to check in. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you taste or touch? How does your body feel? Are you tense, muscles clenched? Where is that stress? What part of your body? Are your thoughts racing toward a future you are only imagining? 

If so, remember, you have the power to change all of that. The most immediate way I've found is to just breathe. I can get an asthma attack pretty easily from anxiety. It's my body's way of telling me to calm down. So, I stop what I'm doing, close my eyes and take 10 slow, calming breaths. I focus on that breath and try to let go of everything else. If thoughts invade (and they most certainly will), I let them float away and go back to focusing on my breath. I repeat that 10-breath cycle until I feel calm. Sometimes that just doesn't work. When that happens, I rely on modern medicine. Hey, I'm not a glutton for punishment! And breathing is kind of important. "Better living through pharmacology", I say. I also do the breathing every morning when I wake up, only I do 10 cycles of 10 breaths—100 breaths total. 

Chodron continues:
Acknowledging what we're thinking and letting it go is the key to touching in with the wealth of bodhichitta, the awakened heart of loving-kindess and compassion. With all the messy stuff, no matter how messy it is, just start where you are—not tomorrow, not later, not yesterday when you were feeling better—but now. Start now, just as you are.
We are all in this together. As we've seen, COVID-19 affects the young and old, rich and poor, famous and not so famous. All of us are potential victims, but we don't have to be victims. 

Whether it's a pandemic, natural disaster war or famine, or the everyday vagaries of life, the one thing we can count on is that life will come at us again—hard. And we may suffer tremendous loss. We can either become angry, fearful and bitter, or we can be like our grandparents and great grandparents and call on those reserves of inner strength that got them through the darkest days of the 20th Century. We can also protect our hearts from fear and anxiety. We can look for the happiness and joy in life. We can help and support each other because all of us are deserving of love and compassion, and all of us have the ability to give it. As we stand at the threshold of Holy Week, remember the great universal law: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." 

* The quotes by Pema Chodron are from her book, Comfortable With Uncertainty. You can order it by clicking on this link: